It’s Almost Dry is a bit lacking in connectivity and coherence, but it still hits highs on the strength of Pusha’s emcee skill and the dual production of Ye and Pharrell.
Let’s face it: Pusha T is an undeniable cornball. He’s the type of dude who thinks it’s impressive to claim that his brand is “crafting masterpieces” on an Internet talk show where they eat spicy chicken wings (where he tapped out about halfway through, the weenie), or that it’s cool to have an album listening party titled “Cokechella,” or that making a diss track against McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish gives him street cred — who’s next on the chopping block, the Hamburglar? — or that remixing the theme song to Succession would yield further acclaim. All these antics were perpetrated within the last six months, starting with the last listed offense; for about any other rapper, it would be career suicide to act this blatantly wack. But Pusha also happens to be an undeniably great rapper, one who’s steadily built an impressive body of work out of finding fresher ways to rap about selling coke — product so high quality, in fact, that it allows him to constantly have egg on his face because of it. So we let it slide — in fact, call it an equivalent exchange: the cornier Pusha’s actions are, the better his music seems to get. With this logic, his fourth studio album, It’s Almost Dry, would have to be his best yet. The recent tomfoolery has just been too off the charts for it to be anything else.
And yet, while it’s certainly better than the bloated excess of his Wrath of Caine mixtape and My Name Is My Name — both of which found the Virginia native struggling to find his voice amidst all those blaring 808s — it lacks a certain level of tonal and qualitative consistency that made the minimal Daytona so electrifying. Which is strange, considering that the architect of that previous record (Kanye West, then; Ye, now) is back at the helm for half of Dry’s tracklist, with long-time collaborator Pharrell Williams assuming production credits for the remaining six songs. If we’re forced to compare the two and go tit-for-tat on who’s got the superior selection here, Williams miraculously ends up on top. This isn’t to say there aren’t gems from Ye (“Just So You Remember” gives Push one of his better moments in a while), but the more noticeably lacking tracks — “Diet Coke” sounds like Diet Pusha T, ditto for Nigo’s “Hear Me Clearly”; closer “I Pray for You” drags the whole thing down into a solemn sermon — all bare his namesake. Even his two guest features could charitably be described as “scarce,” with a phoned-in call for familial unity (“When daddy’s not home, the family’s in danger”) ringing hollow compared to the obsessive vitriol expounded on Donda 2. “Dreamin of the Past” and “Rock n Roll,” on the other hand, are more stirring examples of West’s craftsmanship, looping chopped-up Donny Hathaway and Beyoncé samples until their voices practically become instruments in their own right.
The remaining material on Dry — basically the entirety of Williams’ contributions — are far more successful at reinvigorating Pusha beyond the self-imposed label of a “street rapper.” These tracks don’t necessarily demand more from him, or even switch things up too dramatically. What they do allow for is enough space for a diverse set of cadences and flows that instill a basic sense of artistic progression on Push’s behalf. “Call My Bluff,” for example, ranks as one of his most uncanny vocal turns, with his vocal delivery carrying an indifferent register throughout — he smoothly goes from “eating conch fritters with chips and queso’s” to “don’t make me call my TTG’s with Draco’s” with the same despondent timbre. The apathetic sentiment carries over from opener “Brambleton,” a scathing diss against an old manager that’s so low-key you’d be hard-pressed to imagine anyone involved here getting too worked up about it. “Neck & Wrist” features a rather humdrum Jay-Z appearance all too concerned with legacy upkeep and swearing up and down that he’d still be on top even if Biggie were still around (he has one choice line delivery played extra squeaky: “Y’all spend real money on fake watches, shocKINGly”), but Pharell’s percussion-heavy production is so cosmic and otherworldly that it somehow works once counterbalanced against Push’s blithe presence.
It’s Almost Dry, like all of Pusha’s solo releases thus far, practically lives or dies by the established relationship he has with his production team, and, more specifically, how much faith he’s willing to invest in their creative choices; it’s his voice, but their overarching vision, a backhanded compliment for sure — but hey, at least give it to Push for understanding that no matter how good of an MC one is, their music is only as good as the actual music they’re rapping over. With Ye and Pharell, he’s working with two talents driven by perfection, to a degree that makes each individual track stick out, but fails to really cohere once stacked alongside one another. There’s competition, and then there’s just showboating. Regardless, taken as it, what It’s Almost Dry may lack in connectivity, it tries — and almost succeeds — to make up for on a more isolated level. Which, for a rapper who’s infamously known for not getting along well with others besides his high-profile producers, might be the best compliment one can give a modern-day Pusha T record. That is, until he starts going after Grimace; then the heartless bastard’s taking it too far.
Published as part of Album Roundup — April 2022 | Part 2.